Title: The Fourth Watcher (the 2nd Poke Rafferty novel)
Author: Timothy Hallinan
Publisher: William Morrow 
Length: 320 pages
Setting: Bangkok, Thailand, present-day
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating: 4.5/5
One-liner: A fast-paced story with characters to fall in love with. And jokes.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Poke Rafferty is an American travel writer living in Bangkok and about to settle down with his girlfriend Rose, if she’ll marry him, and his adopted daughter Miaow when things in his life start to go terribly wrong. His father, whom he hasn’t seen in 20 years, arrives in town with Poke’s half-sister and a load of trouble which all lands on Poke’s doorstep and threatens the survival of his new family. To save his family and friends Poke has to bring down a North Korean counterfeit scheme and stop the merciless Chinese Colonel whose retirement savings Poke’s father stole before leaving China.
Going by the book blurb The Fourth Watcher is not really the sort of thing I would expect to like, being more hard-boiled and gangster-y than my usual reading. Which is why I try my hardest not to judge a book by its blurb. Because I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.
Hallinan captures the weather and the noise and the people of Bangkok perfectly with his simple but wonderfully descriptive writing so you really do feel transported to this exotic location. On top of that there are terrific characters who, though far from perfect, are the sort of people you can’t wait to learn more about and when you do you spend the rest of the book wishing fervently for their survival against the odds. At the centre of things Poke Rafferty is credibly complex as the gruff ex-pat writer who has fallen in love with a country, a woman and a child and watching him realise just how important these people are to him and the lengths he’ll go to in order to ensure their safety is an exercise in satisfying character development. I also adored his relationship with policeman Arthit which is full of sarcastic humour and deep respect in equal parts. Rose, a chain-smoking ex-prostitute who now runs a domestic agency, is a delight being neither too saccharine nor too sharp and Miaow manages to be fragile and strong at exactly the same time and if she doesn’t tug at your heart-strings then it’s unlikely you have a heart at all.
The storyline could have tended towards the sleazy or cheesy but did neither because Hallinan really is a terrific writer. He throws in humour and excitement and sadness at all the right moments and avoids all the clichés nicely. I did struggle a teensy bit to keep track of the final complicated swirl of events that enabled Poke to be reunited with all his loved ones but this is a minor criticism of an otherwise excellent book that will appeal to lovers of edge-of-your-seat thrillers and those who like characters with depth and warmth in abundance.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
The Fourth Watcher is the second book to feature Poke Rafferty. The first was A Nail Through the Heart and the third, Breathing Water, was published earlier this year. I shall be tracking them both down.
The Fourth Watcher has also been reviewed at Cheryl’s Book Nook